The Plant That Inspired My Novel


The words, “inspired by a true story,” often mark a movie or novel. When my manuscript is published, the cover could read, “inspired by a real plant.”

Several years ago I received a hibiscus plant from a woman receiving hospice care for cancer. I met Lily when I accompanied my husband on a visit to her home. I didn’t know her well, but I returned another day with a pot of homemade turkey noodle soup. I sat on the little stool beside Lily’s bed and listened to her talk, even though I couldn’t understand much of what this tiny Filipino woman said.

On another visit she told me she wanted to give me her hibiscus plant. I thought to myself, she can’t give this beautiful flowering plant to me; she doesn’t even know me. I nodded, and to humor her, I said, “I’ll pick it up one day when I have a bigger vehicle and my husband can lift it for me.”

Because I felt uncomfortable, I never went to get the plant. Besides, I was sure she’d forget. Two weeks later, we visited again. I sat on the stool and said, “Remember me?”

“You never came and got your plant,” she chastised.

“I will take it; thank you.”

“You never say thank you for a plant,” she told me.

I didn’t understand what she meant so I kept nodding and saying, “Thank you.”

Her courage, faith and spunk to face death inspired me to forget myself. I promised her husband I would be by soon to pick up the plant.

But, my busy life continued. Days before I was to host a house tour for 300 people, I remembered the plant. I knew I needed to go. Again, I worried. I rationalized. I said to the voice within me, “I won’t have time until Sunday.”

To quiet it, I asked my husband, “Will you go with me on Sunday?” When he agreed, I checked it off my to-do list.

Still, I was impressed to not wait but to go get the plant that very day. This time I trusted, and I went. At first, no one came to the door. Then, one of Lily’s daughters—one I didn’t know well—came for the mail. I hesitated but introduced myself and told her why I had come. She helped me take the plant.

The next day we received word that Lily had died.

I don’t know why I needed to receive that plant before her death. Was it important for her to know someone would nurture it? Was it important for me to know that my service was valued? Or was it to know that not one of us is forgotten of the Lord?

Whatever the reason, I do know that the assignment to serve and the strength to do it came from God. He gave me the power to distinguish his voice above my internal battle, and trust that His love was enough for me to respond. This experience showed me that I can answer his call to love others, whatever my capacity.

But that’s not the end of the story.

I took the plant home, found it a sunny location and nurtured it for more than a year. It bloomed with multiple red blooms that cheered me with the fruits of my labors.

The spot I chose, however, was too far away for me to see it every day and notice when it became dry from indoor winter heat. When I did notice, I moved it to a better place and tried to restore it to good health. After a few weeks I knew that it would not survive.

I was devastated. How could I kill this important plant rich with meaning?

Then an idea came. Within this experience was a bigger story I wanted to tell—what happens to a plant with a legacy and the woman who receives it?

This is the work of fiction I’ve written this year. In the middle of the writing process, my sisters and I gave another sister a hibiscus as a gift. Now, that sister is moving to Australia, and at Thanksgiving—the week I finished my first draft of the novel—she gave me that hibiscus. Last week when I completed my revisions, the hibiscus bloomed as a beautiful reminder of God’s grace.

May you feel the gift of His Grace this Christmas and throughout the new year.

1 Comment

  1. Camille
    Dec 23, 2009

    I had forgotten about Rachel’s hibiscus. What perfect timing and a nice circle to the story that you have it now while she is in Australia. Beautiful! Have a Merry Christmas! I love you.

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